NEWS | Kaley Payne
Friday 18 March 2016
On the national day of action against bullying and violence, the federal government has outlined amendments to the Safe Schools Coalition teaching materials to ensure their contents are appropriate for classroom teaching.
In a statement, Education Minister Simon Birmingham said he had always defended the objectives of the Safe Schools programme but kept an “open mind” about the content. He said the government was giving a “strong but measured response to the types of concerns we’ve heard.”
“Students have every right to feel safe in our schools, in their most important learning environments. They have every right to feel safe from bullying and homophobia … they also have every right to be safe from inappropriate materials.”
The review of the Safe Schools Coalition materials by Professor Bill Louden from the University of Western Australia identified several activities from the All of Us resource lesson plan as potentially unsuitable for some students.
Those activities included a role-playing lesson that required students to imagine they were a same-sex attracted person. Senator Birmingham said those lessons would be removed from the programme.
Senator Birmingham said there had been “extensive criticism” about linkages from the Safe Schools Coalition programme to third-party websites, including the Minus 18 website. He said those concerns would be addressed by requiring all third-party organisation branding and links to be removed from official resources. Third-party links will be limited to federal, state or territory funded organisations for the provision of mental health or counselling services.
“All references to organisations like Minus 18 will be required to be removed,” said Senator Birmingham.
He reaffirmed that the Safe Schools Coalition resources would be restricted to secondary school settings only. Resources including OMG I’m Queer, OMG My Friend’s Queer and Stand Out resources, which were created by young people, should be restricted to distribution through school counsellors in a one-to-one setting.
The Safe Schools Coalition teaching resources will be housed on the Australian Government Safe Schools Hub website, which contains other inclusion and anti-bullying resources for schools, teachers, parents and students.
“The Safe Schools Coalition Australia website will not have any resources, advice or links and will limit operations to programme coordination and direct users to the Hub for access to official programme resources,” said Senator Birmingham.
Parents will also be more engaged with the Safe Schools teaching materials, he said. School parent bodies must agree to their school’s participation in the SSC programme, and may also dictate the extent of that participation. Parental consent will be required for student participation and an official fact sheet for parents about the programme will be developed.
Senator Birmingham said he believed there was “broad support for the actions we are taking” from across the spectrum, but “there will no doubt be people who will be dissatisfied by the response.”
“I think there are people who want to use this as a proxy for other debates. But they are being grossly irresponsible. This is about what is best for children, to be able to feel safe and protected from bullying but also protected from any inappropriate content.
“Advocacy and activism is not part of this programme. Just as proselytism is not part of the chaplaincy programme, so too advocacy and activism must not be part of the safe schools programme.”
The government’s response has addressed some of the concerns expressed by Christian organisations including Australian Christian Lobby, particularly the removal of third-party website links such as Minus 18. However, while some of the class activities have been removed, the core teaching on issues such as gender fluidity remains.